What’s That?: Stop-Start Systems

What do the 2016 Infiniti Q50 2.0t Premium and the 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland 4×4 have in common? Not much outside of me test driving both of them within the same 30-day period. They both do, however, feature stop-start systems designated for conventional gasoline engine vehicles. That’s it. That’s the common denominator that caught my attention. And it was enough to raise my “what’s that?” antenna.

I knowingly experienced this system for the first time while driving the Q50 in rush hour traffic. Between the act of stopping and starting, the car went quiet and then shuddered when I prepared to hit the gas to move forward. The process seemed to repeat itself every time I stopped for more than a couple of seconds! In the middle of this process, my heart made its way to my stomach, and I thought of every reason why the vehicle broke down. I was adamant that none of them was going to be my fault.

I’ve since learned that stop-start systems literally shuts the engine off when the car stops to decrease the amount of time the engine spends idling at a light or while you’re sitting in traffic, thereby reducing fuel consumption and emissions. While the engine is stopped, the interior systems (i.e. radio and air condition) run on power from the vehicle’s battery. For some, the system feels intrusive, but it appears to be here to stay thanks to mandates, executive orders and regulations from the White House, U.S.  Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

By 2021, according to a Navigant Research report, more than half of all light-duty vehicles sold worldwide will incorporate stop-start capability. Heavy duty vehicles, including pickup trucks and vans, are not far behind. This system, already commonplace in Europe, aims to positively impact consumer’s pocketbooks over time. Various studies, including one from AAA Driving Fuel Efficiency series, shows the annual fuel savings at five to seven percent. If you don’t care about those savings, you can turn the feature off.

By the time I test drove the Jeep, which features a quieter and more seamless stop-start process than the Q50, I was familiar with the system enough not to panic. Nevertheless, for the average driver, who is not keeping track of how the latest government regulations will impact their daily drive, this relatively new system can come as an unwelcome surprise.

Just know you did nothing wrong.